Comments from the canyons: Cattle branding glimpse of history

A few days ago, some travelers asked if I knew any history of this area, and I had to admit I had lived a large part of it.

They were particularly interested in learning a little about ranching. I had the feeling that they thought they were in the Wild West and expected to see a herd of cattle stampeding down the street, followed by some wild, pistol-toting cowboys.

They asked about cattle brands and wanted to know if cattle are still branded. Fortunately, I could tell them a little about brands and branding.

I began by telling them they could see many of our area brands at the Tucumcari Historical Museum. Uncle Herman and helpers painted them above the picture molding in the various rooms.

I explained the brands there are authentic but not necessarily registered. That required a little further explanation as they didn't understand the idea of registering them.

Briefly, I recounted that registration has helped lessen the "borrowing" of cattle and selling them with the wrong herd. The brand is proof of ownership just as is our car registration.

Some brands, however, were not registered at one period. Mine, for instance, was one of those, but Dad had an understanding with the inspectors so they knew to whom my brand belonged.

Also, because some cattle people were not sure how long they would remain in business, they just didn't bother registering their brands. They, too, made their brands known to the brand inspectors and had no trouble.

Most of those earlier brand inspectors kept lists of the unregistered brands along with their brand books so they could check carefully when cattle were sold to be sure they were not stolen cattle. The inspectors knew the people in their area and knew how they traded and when they usually took animals to market.

Of course, I suggested that the travelers go to our museum to view the many brands that have been preserved along with our other artifacts. I told them where to look for a few local brands and said that I always feel comfortable down there when I look up to see our brands, to check Dad's black hat, and to hold one of the branding irons.

We talked for a while about the branding operation, which was not my favorite activity, but one which had to be done to keep our cattle safe. They were a little surprised to learn about the number of steps in tending to one animal before moving on to the next.

They were also interested in hearing about some of the changes that have taken place over the years, but that some ranchers still go through the old-fashioned process of heeling, throwing, and tending to the animal on the ground.

The travelers seemed a bit amazed that ranching is such hard work. It doesn't always resemble the television and movie versions of country life.

Yes, at times, it can be romantic, but 99.9 percent of the time, it is just plain bone-tiring labor. I wouldn't take anything for my early life on the ranch and often wish Dad hadn't decided to sell it because I could hibernate in some of those caves when tension gets too great in town.

Those really were the best and worst years of my life, and I was glad to be able to share just a little glimpse with the travelers.

Lynn Moncus is a Tucumcari resident and can be contacted through the Quay County Sun by calling 575-461-1952.

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